As we head into the second half of the season, fantasy managers need to stay focused on baseball, even with the temptation of fantasy football. In this installment of our buy or sell series, we analyze Joey Gallo’s hot streak and Patrick Sandoval’s pitch mix change. Gallo is a reliable and must-start hitter rostered in most fantasy leagues. However, Sandoval has burst onto the scene after some struggles in 2019 and 2020. With Gallo, we’ll look into his performance over the past month, and with Sandoval, we’ll dig into his results and underlying metrics since becoming a starter in 2021.
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Buy or Sell – Joey Gallo’s Heater & Patrick Sandoval’s Pitch Mix Change
Joey Gallo (OF – TEX)
Admittedly, Joey Gallo wasn’t a hitter I targeted during draft season. However, over the past 30 days, Gallo is crushing it with a league-best .490 wOBA. During the past month, Gallo has 12 home runs, 17 runs, and 20 RBI with a .265 batting average and a 1.243 OPS. He is clearly on a hot streak when we consider Gallo typically doesn’t hit for a high batting average.
Overall in 2021, Gallo has 24 home runs, 54 runs scored, 52 RBI, and six stolen bases. Typically, we recommend Gallo in OBP leagues given his high walk rate of 19.7% and .386 OBP, both of which rank near career-highs up to this point. When compared to Gallo’s career 15% walk rate and .338 OBP, we head towards plate discipline to see what’s going on.
Gallo’s Plate Discipline & Batted Ball Profile
Interestingly, Joey Gallo’s plate discipline improved from past seasons but looks similar to 2020. Gallo still boasts below-average contact rates, evidenced by a 73.8% Z-Contact% and 63% Contact%. When Gallo makes contact, it’s some of the hardest-hit batted balls in the league.
Gallo’s chase rate has gradually dropped throughout his career. His chase rate decreased from 32.2% in 2018 to 24.2% in 2019 and down to 22.9% in 2021, similar to his 2020 numbers. Not surprisingly, Gallo boasts the lowest swinging-strike rate (14.7%) of his career, down from a career rate of 17.7%.
Based on Gallo’s batted ball profile, he’s pulling the ball less at a career-low 42.5% with a career pull rate of 48.2%. Gallo is also spraying the ball to centerfield with a career-best 33.3% near his 2018 season.
Opposing defenses already shift against Gallo a ton at 94.2% of the time, so Gallo reducing his pull-rate can net positive results. Gallo’s .388 wOBA against the shift is slightly lower than his career-high of a .390 wOBA back in 2019. That season (2019), Gallo reached career-bests in batting average (.253) and BABIP (.368), although only in 70 games played.
Should We Buy or Sell Joey Gallo?
We won’t dive too deep into Joey Gallo’s Baseball Savant data since we know he crushes baseballs, evidenced by an 18.9% barrel rate (97th-percentile) and 115.1 mph maximum exit velocity (95th-percentile). At this point, the power is a given with Gallo. However, it’s a matter of whether Gallo can sustain a batting average that doesn’t hurt fantasy managers.
With Gallo’s quality of contact and improved plate discipline, he currently has a near career-best wOBA (.383) and a high .513 xwOBAcon that ranks in the top 8% of the league. All this data leads us to buy into Gallo more than sell. However, with Gallo’s recent success, fantasy managers will need to “buy high” given the circumstances.
Patrick Sandoval (SP – LAA)
After a 5.33 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, a 22.9% strikeout rate, and a 9.5% walk rate in 76 innings pitched (2019-2020), Patrick Sandoval is pitching much better in 2021. Through 63 innings pitched, Sandoval has a 3.86 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 26.2% strikeout rate, and 9.6% walk rate. Much better ratios plus an improved strikeout rate make us want to dive a bit deeper.
I often think of Sandoval as a pitcher who struggled with control and command yet had decent stuff, particularly with his changeup. In 2019 and 2020, Sandoval ran into a bit of misfortune with a 68.6% LOB%, although he had a low .273 BABIP. His 27.1% HR/FB% also looked a bit high, given that he elicited a 51.2% ground ball rate. Although it’s not an extremely high ground ball rate, we expect that HR/FB% to regress a bit. In 2021, Sandoval’s 20.4% HR/FB% positively regressed.
Sandoval’s Pitch Mix & Results
Overall, we noticed Patrick Sandoval is allowing less contact with a higher swinging-strike rate. Sandoval boasts a 66.1% Contact% compared to 69.1% in 2019 and 73.1% in 2020. Even his career-best 16% swinging-strike rate jumped from his career 14.4% rate.
Interestingly, Patrick Sandoval adjusted his pitch mix to throw the changeup more at 31.6%, up from 22.9% in 2020 and 31% in 2019. However, the most notable change – the lowering of his four-seamer usage, which Sandoval typically threw 44-46% of the time in 2019 and 2020. So far in 2021, Sandoval is throwing his four-seamer at 25.8% of the time, which is a 20% drop. Sometimes we find positive results when a pitcher throws their worst pitch less and their best pitch more often.
Outside of Sandoval’s changeup, we notice his slider has improved even though it’s his fourth most used pitch in 2021. Sandoval’s slider typically has above-average horizontal movement, which can translate into weaker contact. Overall, it looks slightly more effective, particularly in terms of slugging percentage.
Should We Buy or Sell Patrick Sandoval?
Well, Patrick Sandoval’s ERA estimators indicate that his current ERA isn’t far off with a 4.37 FIP, 3.69 xFIP, and 3.47 xERA. Sandoval’s pitch mix change plus better results help us buy-in rather than sell his first half of the season. Both Sandoval’s slider and changeup have a -6 Run-Value on Baseball Savant, which is similar to our analysis that those are two of his best pitches.
Early in the season, Sandoval pitched in relief then slowly ramped up his workload. Through six appearances in May, Sandoval had a 3.80 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, an 18.5% strikeout rate, and a 10.9% walk rate. Since June, Sandoval holds a 3.89 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, a 30.4% strikeout rate, and an 8.9% walk rate. In dynasty and redraft leagues, I’m buying into Sandoval as a starting pitcher with some upside.
Thanks for checking out this week’s statcast article. Be sure to check out Eric Cross’s updated Top Fantasy Baseball Prospects.
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